South Carolina Custody Laws : How to Get Custody of a Child

South Carolina custody laws can be difficult for parents to navigate. When the relationship between two parents end, they must decide who gets custody of the children. This applies to divorcing and unmarried couples alike. Unfortunately, the problems that divide couples sometimes spill over onto child custody decisions and complicate them.

Whether you are making a custody decision for the first time or want to modify an existing order, you need to understand how South Carolina custody laws work. Turner Family Law can explain these laws and work with you toward a favorable outcome.

South Carolina Custody Laws

The South Carolina Children’s Code sets various laws that govern matters involving children, such as custody, parenting plans and child support. The best interests of the children are the underlying factor in all of these laws; their welfare must always be the top priority.

Sometimes the mother and father reach a workable agreement together without needing a court to make decisions for them. Mediators can help you through this process if you’re finding it difficult on your own.

Judges usually approve independent or mediated agreements as long as they reflect the child’s best interests. In other cases, a judge may make a different ruling.

The judge presiding over your case will consider the SC custody laws when making a decision. They also look at things like each parent’s:

  • Stability
  • Health condition
  • Ability to care for the children properly
  • Relationship with each child and the ability to cooperate with the other parent
  • Any history of child abuse or neglect, substance abuse or domestic violence

Depending on the children’s ages, the judge may also consider the children’s preferences regarding which parent they would prefer to live with.

If you are unhappy with a judge’s decision, you only have a short time to appeal. Contact Turner Family Law as soon as possible so we don’t miss the filing deadline.

The Different Types of Child Custody

For both sole and joint custody, there are legal and physical custody determinations to make. You must also set a visitation or parenting plan that complies with South Carolina custody laws.

Some circumstances, such as parental relocation or a child with special needs, may make these decisions challenging. Emotions typically run high, adding to the difficulties. Your child custody attorney can help you reach a reasonable agreement and reduce unnecessary stress.

Legal custody

Parents must make many decisions about their children’s lives, such as their medical care, extracurricular activities, education and spiritual upbringing. Having legal custody means you get to participate in these decisions.

Physical custody

With physical custody, your child resides with you, and you are responsible for their care. South Carolina custody laws state that you must have legal custody to gain physical custody.

Sole custody

Sole custody gives you the right to make decisions for your child alone. You also have physical custody. The other parent may have visitation rights with the court’s approval but does not have legal custody.

Joint custody

Joint custody is the most common type because it allows children to continue their relationship with both parents. With joint custody, each parent has decision-making rights and shares the physical care responsibilities.

Parenting plan

Unless one parent’s parental rights were terminated, both parents typically have visitation rights. Your parenting plan should clearly establish visitation schedules, how physical custody transfers will take place and how to approach any emergency deviations.

Filing for Joint Custody in SC

Under South Carolina custody laws, biological mothers have full parental rights by default. With married couples, courts assume that the man is the biological father. With unwed couples, the man has no custody rights until he establishes paternity.


When married parents divorce, deciding on child custody is usually a part of the process. Unless one parent presents a clear danger to the child, parents usually get joint custody.

Unmarried parents

For unwed fathers wondering how to get custody of a child in SC, you must first legally establish paternity. You can establish paternity regardless of whether the mother is in agreement, but you must do it in the legally proper way.

After you establish paternity, you can seek joint custody. If the mother is clearly unfit, you might win sole custody. Contact Turner Family Law to request a consultation so we can evaluate the facts of your situation and tell you how we can help.

Non-Parental Custody Rights in South Carolina

In some cases, neither parent is fit to care for their children. In other situations, someone else, such as a grandparent, stepparent or guardian, has been taking care of a child for extended periods.

Although it is sometimes more difficult for a non-parent to gain custody, South Carolina’s custody laws do address these situations. Turner Family Law can tell you if you qualify to seek joint or sole custody.

Turner Family Law Understands South Carolina Custody Laws and How They Apply to Your Situation

Whether you are facing a custody battle or just want to be sure that your rights are protected, hiring a competent attorney benefits you in several ways. We are intimately familiar with South Carolina’s custody laws, and we can help parents serve their children’s best interests in custody decisions. Contact Turner Family Law today.

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Initial Consultation

First, we will conduct an initial consultation and we will go over all the facts and details of your case.

Filing and Negotiations

We submit a Complaint to the Court, or help you respond to one. Hearings and negotiations take place.

Final Order

Following mediation, all unsettled parts of your case will be determined by the trial judge who issues final rulings.

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